- June 1975
- Bridge, Captain Clarence, (OBE, BE, RAN)
- Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- Originally published in the Naval Historical Review edition (all rights reserved)
An account of the search for the German Pacific Fleet (Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Leipzig, Dresden, Emden) by the battle cruiser Australia after the German ships had left Rabaul on 11th August 1914, until they were destroyed in the Battle of the Falkland Islands (four months later) in December 1914.
This account was taken from the diary of Engineer Lieutenant Clarence Bridge, who was serving at that time in the Australia.
Engineer Lieutenant Bridge (now Captain Bridge, OBE, BE, RAN) lives in Kensington, London.
WHEN THE GREAT WAR BEGAN, Australia was in Sydney Harbour, fully provisioned and stored and with a vast quantity of coal on deck. She was a powerful fighting unit – a modern battle-cruiser with 12-inch guns.
It was known that the German Pacific Fleet – a most effective force of some 10 ships of which Scharnhorst and Gneisenau (8 inch guns) were the most powerful – were in the New Guinea area. The destruction of this Fleet was our target.
Australia sailed from Sydney on the night of 4th August 1914, and steaming up the Queensland coast began an intensive search over the wide Pacific and its many islands for an enemy, well led, elusive, and resourceful.
Off Cairns we were joined by other ships of the RAN – Sydney, Melbourne and the Destroyer Flotilla, and also the two submarines AE1 and AE2.
New Guinea Taken:
It was considered Scharnhorst and Gneisenau might be at Simpsonshafen, a German New Guinea port, and on the night of the 11th August 1914, the place was attacked but no enemy was found.
A message to the German cruisers was then intercepted, telling them of our presence in those waters. Such messages were sent out by German planters in the island. A month later Australian troops were landed at Rabaul and the wireless station was captured.
The Search Continues:
The vast Pacific, studded with islands, and the enemy’s knowledge of our presence made the search extremely difficult.
Occasionally the distinctive German Telefunken wireless was picked up, but having no radio direction finder, the source of the signals could not be pinpointed, although their general direction was known.
The Fleet sailed from Simpsonshafen to Port Moresby to coal.
Port Moresby is a small place with a population of about 3,000 (1,000 whites). The inhabitants were very fearful the Germans would destroy the town and the white women and children had been moved into the bush. The men were short of arms and the Australia gave them rifles and ammunition and also a machine gun.
Whilst at Port Moresby, Miss Beatrice Grimshaw, a popular writer of Pacific Island stories, came on board Australia and gave the staff valuable information about German activities in the area.
From Port Moresby we sailed for Noumea leaving the submarines, destroyers and Sydney on patrol.
At Noumea, Australia was joined by the French cruiser Montcalm and some units of the New Zealand Navy. Noumea is not impressive and did not appear to be prosperous, but the town was gay with flags for our arrival.
I have many friends and relations in Noumea and a score or so came to the jetty to bid me goodbye, their fond embraces (very French) giving great amusement to my fellow officers in the picket boat at my obvious embarrassment. After coaling, we put to sea for battle practice. The Montcalm had not fired her guns for two years.
On leaving Noumea we steamed NE to Suva in the Fiji Islands where a further intensive search was made. At Suva there was evidence of great prosperity – fine big houses on the outskirts of the town, good stores and the native population well set-up, intelligent and very clean.
It was now the end of August 1914. The hunt had lasted a month but we had high hopes of coming up with them in Apia – a night attack was made but no enemy ships were seen.
Troops were landed from a transport in our convoy. The Governor surrendered the town. The German flag was run down and the Union Jack hoisted.
We recalled that it was here in Apia Bay the gallant conduct of her captain saved the Calliope during a violent gale in 1889 when all other ships at that time in the harbour were dashed on the rocks and lost.
New Guinea and Samoa Now Captured:
While at Apia we heard New Guinea and Samoa had now been captured from the Germans, an impressive success.
Return to Suva:
We now returned to Suva and were again very impressed. Batteries had been set up along the seafront and precautions against attack were evident. They were delighted to hear that Samoa had fallen.
New Hebrides, Rossel Island, Malekula:
Leaving Suva, Australia steamed through the centre of the long chain of islands forming the New Hebrides group. Here are several active volcanoes which lazily smoked, casting a dismal pall over the surrounding land, the air was heavy, hot and damp.
At Malekula it was recalled that scarcely two months ago the sloop Torch was sent here on a punitive expedition – the natives had killed and eaten three missionaries.
Early in September 1914 we reached Rossel Island where the Sydney, destroyers and submarines awaited us.
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